Tag Archives: Mekhi Phifer

Dawn of the Dead (2004, Zack Snyder)

There are good things about Dawn of the Dead. Maybe not many and certainly not enough to make the film at all a rewarding experience, but there are good things about it. They usually come with caveats.

For example, Jake Weber is really good. Of course, his part is terribly written (all of the parts in James Gunn’s screenplay are terribly written; calling them caricatures would be too gracious) and director Snyder and editor Niven Howie aren’t really interested in telling the characters’ story so Weber doesn’t have much to do. But you can tell, it’s a fine performance. Just a poorly written one and a poorly edited one.

Ditto Michael Kelly, who shows up as a jerk, disappears for a bit, then comes back and with him some liveliness to the film so it clearly needed him more. Because instead of Kelly, Snyder and Gunn sort of focus on Ving Rhames’s reluctant hero cop character. Rhames gets some of the film’s worse dialogue; he’s able to remain sympathetic, while never exactly turning in a good performance.

In the top-billed role (presumably because she got the prologue), Sarah Polley eventually has less to do than the dog.

Snyder’s not interested in his characters, he’s not even interested in the zombies they’re trying to survive. He’s interested in the final product. So the film’s calculated, manipulative, reductive and tiring. Snyder isn’t trying to tell a good story, just a sensational film.

Doesn’t amount to much. Certainly not a good movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by James Gunn, based on a screenplay by George A. Romero; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Niven Howie; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Andrew Neskoromny; produced by Eric Newman, Marc Abraham and Richard P. Rubinstein; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sarah Polley (Ana), Ving Rhames (Kenneth), Jake Weber (Michael), Ty Burrell (Steve), Mekhi Phifer (Andre), Michael Kelly (CJ), Inna Korobkina (Luda), Kevin Zegers (Terry), Lindy Booth (Nicole), Jayne Eastwood (Norma), Michael Barry (Bart) and Matt Frewer (Frank).


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O (2001, Tim Blake Nelson)

The actor playing Josh Hartnett’s mother (and Martin Sheen’s wife) doesn’t get a credit in O. She doesn’t have any lines, doesn’t really make any noise, just looks down at the dinner table during a scene. But she’s a perfect example of how Nelson paints subtlety and sadness into the film’s canvas. She’s mentioned once more later, in this very deliberate scene showcasing Sheen’s emotional abuse of Hartnett. O has a lot of teenagers–in a boarding school–acting adult, but this scene with Hartnett and Sheen (Sheen barely has a visual presence and Hartnett has only one line), reveals these “grown-up” teenagers as the children.

While second-billed, Hartnett is the film’s protagonist. The point of Othello, as a character, is how uninteresting he is when compared to Iago. That observation should not discount Mekhi Phifer’s performance as the Othello analog, however. Phifer’s transformation into a jealous lover is all played onscreen in O… Hartnett’s just a psychopath who finally gets to express himself. Othello has to be a tragedy; even when Phifer lashes out, he maintains sympathy. Some of it works because Hartnett’s a great villain, but most is because of Nelson’s careful direction.

Julia Stiles, as Desdemona, doesn’t have the range Hartnett and Phifer do, but she’s quite good. Her death scene’s extraordinary.

Also essential, in a small role, is Rain Phoenix.

Nelson, cinematographer Russell Lee Fine and composer Jeff Danna create an amazing film. Nelson puts the responsibility for its success on Hartnett; Hartnett excels.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson; screenplay by Brad Kaaya, based on a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Russell Lee Fine; edited by Kate Sanford; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Dina Goldman; produced by Daniel Fried, Eric Gitter and Anthony Rhulen; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Hugo Goulding), Mekhi Phifer (Odin James), Julia Stiles (Desi Brable), Andrew Keegan (Michael Cassio), Rain Phoenix (Emily), Elden Henson (Roger Calhoun), Martin Sheen (Coach Duke Goulding) and John Heard (Dean Bob Brable).


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Clockers (1995, Spike Lee)

Clockers opens with actual crime scene photos juxtaposed against filmed sequences of a crowd gathering to watch as the police arrive. Lee is dealing with a lot in the film and opening with that startling sequence—against a beautiful song—at least shocks the viewer into paying attention. Though the film is too apolitical to be “about” anything, it does require undivided attention.

What Lee does do, very carefully and very clearly, is dismiss notions of simple characters. At times, the cops—with the exception of Harvey Keitel—appear the simplest, only to eventually reveal their internal strife in conversational asides. Keitel, top-billed, acts on that strife, though he does not describe it.

The film’s protagonist, a young drug dealer played by Mekhi Phifer (who’s amazing in his first performance), very clearly shows contradictions. But even Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s vicious, heroin-addled psychopath has these moments where he’s showing real concern, just unable to express it. Delroy Lindo’s similarly vicious drug lord has them too, but even Phifer’s gang of subordinate dealers are full of the contradictions. Lee never draws attention to it, instead just presenting reality.

Of course, with Malik Hassan Sayeed’s high contrast photography and Terence Blanchard’s emotive score, the Brooklyn projects become as lush and green as a tropical paradise.

All of the performances are amazing—there’s not a good one or a mediocre one. Keith David, Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor… everyone’s spectacular.

Instead of simplifying a novel adaptation, Lee furthered complicated it, creating something remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Spike Lee; screenplay by Richard Price and Lee, based on the novel by Price; director of photography, Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Samuel D. Pollard; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Jon Kilik, Lee and Martin Scorsese; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mekhi Phifer (Ronald ‘Strike’ Dunham), Harvey Keitel (Det. Rocco Klein), Delroy Lindo (Rodney Little), Isaiah Washington (Victor Dunham), John Turturro (Det. Larry Mazilli), Keith David (André the Giant), Peewee Love (Tyrone ‘Shorty’ Jeeter), Regina Taylor (Iris Jeeter), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Errol Barnes), Sticky Fingaz (Scientific), Fredro Starr (Go), Elvis Nolasco (Horace), Lawrence B. Adisa (Stan), Hassan Johnson (Skills), Frances Foster (Gloria) and Michael Imperioli (Detective Jo-Jo).


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